Here’s what I love about this simple winter soup: it contains almost no meat product and only a few vegetables. You can even leave out the pasta and no one will miss it. You can make it the day before you entertain and the soup will be even better. Pasta e Fagioli is a classic Italian peasant dish, but it is so sumptuous, that after one sip of the soup, your dinner guests will feel like royalty. Simple dishes shine if you use only the best ingredients so if you want to do justice to this soup, start with homemade brown chicken stock. You will need a big batch of stock since this recipe calls for two quarts. Also, please use dried borlotti beans otherwise known as cranberry beans. The bean is tan, fairly large and streaked with red. I purchase my beans either from Rancho Gordo or Whole Foods. These beans are the star of the soup. You will be the star of the evening if you serve this main dish with warm crusty sourdough bread, a bit of butter, a simple salad and a bottle of good chianti.
- 1 small chunk of pancetta (about 1/4 pound), cut into one inch cubes'
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
- 1-2 teaspoons dried hot pepper
- 1 large Spanish onion, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 quarts chicken stock, preferably brown chicken stock (see notes)
- 1 pound dried borlotti beans, soaked overnight in large glass bowl
- 1 3 inch square Parmesan rind
- Salt to taste
- In a Dutch oven (I use my Le Creuset 6 quart Dutch oven) heat the pancetta and olive oil over high heat until it is almost smoking and the pancetta is nicely browned. Add the onions and parsley and hot pepper and cook over medium heat until the onions are golden, about 8 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook over medium heat about 8 minutes. Do not let the paste mixture scorch. Add most of the chicken stock (one-and-a-half quarts) and the swollen beans and the parmesan rind and simmer 20 more minutes. Taste soup, adjust seasoning. If soup is too thick, add more stock. Before serving, sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley.
- This soup is starchy and does not really need pasta. But if you truly want to call your soup, "Pasta e Fagioli," add a few pre-cooked pasta rags to your soup, just before serving.
- Shortcut for making light brown chicken stock: Buy two already roasted chickens from the supermarket (If you like, remove some breast meat for sandwiches). Toss the two chickens in a tall stockpot with 2 carrots, 1 parsnip, 1 coarsely chopped leek, two coarsely chopped medium Spanish onions, 3 ribs of chopped celery, 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, 1 bunch of parsley stems, 1 bay leaf, 1 heaping tablespoon of Kosher salt. Cover with 6 quarts of water. Bring almost to a boil, then reduce heat and cook at a low simmer, skimming occasionally until stock is reduced by half. This should take about two hours. Remove from heat, strain and cool the stock (In the winter, when temperature is 35 degrees Fahrenheit or below, I put the stockpot on a tray in the snow or by the front door and let the stock quickly cool down). After your stock has cooled down, refrigerate it overnight. In the morning, skim off the congealed fat. Refrigerate stock in 1 quart containers for up to a week or freeze for up to a month.